This is why we should fight against out-sourcing at universities


by Guest    
4:50 pm - October 1st 2013

      Share on Tumblr

by Luke Martell

Sussex Uni’s 13,000 students started back last week. So did the campus’ formidable anti-outsourcing campaign.

Private company Chartwells have taken over the university’s catering. Sussex management said this was for a better consumer experience. But campus consumers have complained of a reduced service. That’s putting it mildly. And international consumer feedback for Chartwells, owned by Compass, looks very negative.

It’s rumoured that Interserve may take over Sussex’s estates and facilities. The company were fined £11.6m by the Office of Fair Trading for illegal bid-rigging. They had to cough up £50,000 for exposing MoD workers to asbestos.

The company’s chairman Lord Blackwell spoke in the House of Lords for the outsourcing of NHS services. The bill was passed. Guess who got a contract. Whether Interserve get the Sussex job or not; this is the kind of company that public bodies are outsourcing to.

It won’t end here. At Sussex, IT services, sports and the library could be opened up to for-profit companies. The university plans distance learning where profiteers will be sought to provide IT and student services.

The reason – it will be cheaper. How? Low wages and poorer pensions and conditions for the employees. The university is forging ahead despite widespread staff and student opposition, and no consultation with them about whether to outsource.

Outsourcing to for-profits is expanding to academic areas. The government are allowing in controversial for-profit universities. Last year we had none in Britain. Now we have two, and companies like Pearson finding a platform to gain access, not because of their educational values, but for a cut of the money to be made.

In the USA, for-profit colleges spend 24% of their revenue on marketing. That could be devoted to students and staff, but marketisation means it isn’t. At the University of Phoenix, the priority is to get fee-payers enrolled. What happens next is less well resourced. 16% of students graduate. 95% of its tutors are part-time, with little time to research on what they teach.

It’s what happens when higher education is outsourced.

The companies that usually take over, pay poverty wages. They’re accused of corruption and fraud, and a shocking record with consumers and students. The Sussex anti-outsourcing campaign is back. This is the reason why.


Luke Martell is Professor and Head of Sociology at Sussex University

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest post.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Education ,Fight the cuts

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


My personal experience is that the range and quality of food provided by Chartwells is far better than previously available on campus.

I’m glad that an external company has stepped in and rescued a catastrophically failing campus catering operation, and in so doing has not only saved many jobs (with full terms and conditions) but also created new ones.

The fact that it’s a private company that has done this seems to me to be irrelevant. As long as they’re a good employer than provides proper pensions etc and treats its workers well, and also provides a good service, then I’m happy.

After all, I buy almost everything I eat from private companies. As, I suspect, do you.

Peter, the issue of catastrophic failure could be argued about (the management often said this was not about saving costs), as could whether outsourcing is the best way forward over in-house alternatives (never discussed with the staff or unions). It’s not clear that this has saved jobs as outsourcing can be followed by redundancies made by for-profit companies looking for ways to cut costs, and at the meetings with management I went to about this the question of jobs being under threat was never mentioned. Outsourcing itself is often about reducing expenditure on employees to invest in, for instance, growth. Whether for-profit companies like Chartwells are good employers and treat their workers well is, as you will know, the campaign’s main concern and is questioned. Full terms and conditions are not protected by the transfer as Chartwells can change these if it gives an economic, technical or organisational reason. At Miami and DePaul universities employees are in dispute with Chartwells over poverty pay. As for good pensions the outsourced workers are on worse pensions. In relation to good service Chartwells have a very mixed record on consumer feedback.

The university has put clauses into the contracts to protect pensions, pay & conditions. The delay referred to has nothing to do with any campus protests, it’s simply procedural.

But let’s not let the facts get in the way of some pointless campus gesture politics, shall we?

Cherub,

I didn’t say there had been a delay because of campus protests.

The TUPE process protects workers pay and conditions (but at Sussex not their pensions) on the transfer to their new employer but afterwards the company can change these or make the workers redundant if, as mentioned, they give an economic, technical or organisational reason.

Speaking from a personal experience the outsourced services at the Uni’s I went to were far better provided than the Uni managed ones. Mainly this is because the food tasted like food and the gym actually had equipment in it. As for the outsourced admin services, they operated at about four or five times the speed of the departments.

I am however not surprised by the comments of Luke. They are a depressingly common trend amongst ‘academics’ who have never worked in the real world.

@OP, Luke Martell: “In the USA, for-profit colleges spend 24% of their revenue on marketing. That could be devoted to students and staff, but marketisation means it isn’t.”

The University of Sussex (not Sussex Uni) is not a for-profit institution. Thus discussion about USA recruitment practice is at least three steps away from Brighton outsourcing the provision of catering.

The OP fails to distinguish between academic, academic-related and non-academic functions in not-for-profit universities. Catering and marketing are non-academic roles; library and academic IT provision are academic-related roles.

When considering the consequences for catering staff, we should argue for their rights pertinently rather than melding them with the confusion of outsourcing.

“At Sussex, IT services, sports and the library could be opened up to for-profit companies. The university plans distance learning where profiteers will be sought to provide IT and student services.”

I am unqualified to talk about sports facilities but I have 20 years insider experience of university IT and library services*. These are not being ‘opened up’ — there has always collaboration between commercial service providers and academic-related university staff. The question should be about ‘how’ commercial services collaborate with universities. If anyone has a serious question to ask, I’ll try to respond.

I have no doubt that University of Sussex has already outsourced many IT functions. HR, asset management and pay roll systems are leased; library catalog and OPAC systems are leased; direct university employees oil and fuel systems for which they are dependent on an external supplier. Maybe, or maybe not, IT staff feel comfortable in their roles.

The body which guides IT provision for post 16/higher education is JISC. JISC membership comprises many bright people but it is a lumbering giant. Geek readers might wish to look up ‘coloured books’ to see how JISC and JANET failed to see the world (or networks) around them.

JISC is keen on big ideas, providing seminars and publishing papers about those big ideas. ‘Big ideas’ are presented by IT managers and eLearning enthusiasts who wish to boost their CVs and credence. Those big ideas often crumble in the bigger reality of ‘making stuff work’.

Second Life, as a space for virtual experiments and education, was a big idea a few years ago, but the technology is/was inappropriate for education or big business. Did JISC do anything about it?

JISC people also love Gartner reports about how IT functions. Everyone has a Gartner report to support their proposition; because there is Gartner report to back up any argument.

* Owing to technological convergence, university IT and library services now perform similar roles.

7. Luke Martell

Freeman, re. academics who have never worked in the real world. Universities are part of the real world. Universities include workers in all kinds of jobs and income-levels, from all sorts of backgrounds, that work together, know each other, and academics work with them and teach students on a day to day basis. Academics have bosses, homes and families, they go to shops and pubs, and have friends outside their workplace. Most importantly on this issue many have direct experience of outsourcing as workers or consumers, and colleagues of those who are outsourced and tutors to those who are users of outsourced services.

@7

Err, no. I spent a considerable time in the academic world and professors often inhabit a parallel universe. It is often the reason why it is in universities that utterly mad schemes are born. Whether it is the communist apologists of LSE or the bonkers Marxist ‘intellectuals’ that can be found in most sociology departments in the UK.

So no, just because you are physically based in the real world does not mean you play an active part in it, especially those professors who find themselves on tenureship so that they can sit high in their ivory towers and pontificate on hypotheticals to those considerably younger than themselves and who are too scared to contradict what the professor says.

Those who have actually lived through anything left of very mild socialism have the common trait of never wanting to return.

‘Those who have actually lived through anything left of very mild socialism have the common trait of never wanting to return,’

I didn’t realize that there were degrees of socialism, perhaps you can indicate where this left of mild socialism is/was and, better still, a few references of people who once lived there.

10. Derek Hattons Tailor

Most studies show that over the medium/long term outsourcing is rarely cheaper and is often more expensive than in house solutions. After experiencing “private sector efficiency” in the form of higher cost for a lesser service, some public sector organisations manage to bring the service back in-house. The problem is that often after a few years of the contract running the in house management expertise has faded, start up costs escalate and due to the cartel nature of the outsourcing market, and various political connections, the same handful of outsourcers continue to get the contracts irrespective of the service they provide. They also have the customer over a barrel and can take the piss with prices. Serco and G4s are currently being investigated for over charging on prisoner tagging contracts but continue to bid for government contracts for this reason.

@9. steveb
“I didn’t realize that there were degrees of socialism, perhaps you can indicate where this left of mild socialism is/was and, better still, a few references of people who once lived there.”

Is this an exercise in sophistry? Perhaps you should add to that list all the dates on which the planets have been aligned.

However, to titillate your daft inquiry. Of course there are varying degrees of socialism. There are socialist policies just as there are free market policies, and they may be introduced to varying degrees. For instance a totally free healthcare system such as the NHS is a socialist policy, yet that doesn’t mean that we have to have the agrarian policies and endless turnips of a more socialist state such as Maoist China. Equally, allowing free floating interest rates is a free market policy, but does not mean that you have drifted all the way to a totally free market (or close to).

As for people I will say that it is every person I have met who lived under Soviet communism has hated it. I know about a dozen Russians and a handful of old eastern block, but that doesn’t assuage you does it. Let us consider this then. Who has to put up the borders to stop people immigrating when hardline socialist and free market countries border one another? (Cuba/USA)(China/Hong Kong)(Vietnam/Thailand)(USSR/Europe)

11

You clearly don’t know what socialism is, but I suspected as much by your comments @8. Soviet communism, btw, could hardly be regarded as the mild left of socialism, fancy another try.

@12. steveb

Eh? Can you read? I said:

“anything left of very mild socialism”

In other words people have tolerated mild left policies such as those in Europe, but have not tolerated anything further left than that (Communism/hardline socialism/Maoism/etc). I hardly think it appropriate that you comment on someone knowing something when you can’t even read what they have written. In future I will restrict my responses to mono-syllabic utterings for your benefit.

13

I can read but you do not know what socialism is, it is not capitalism with ‘mild socialist policies’ it is a totally different economic system. You mistake the term ‘left’ (a relative concept) with socialism, it’s a common mistake.

It seems to me that instead of checking the accuracy of your beliefs you would rather bluster along in ignorance.

The British are some of the best innovators and inventors in the World. The rest just copy.

How can you stupidly outsource UNI IT when Chinese spies have already been caught planting hidden access equipment in research dept computers?

@14. steveb

Yes thank-you. Those of us living in the real world understand that economic and political systems don’t exist like they do in the controlled environments of textbooks. I would be curious to hear why you think I don’t know what it is. I will give you a heads up. I am actually qualified to comment in this area. So please go ahead.

16

‘Those of us living in the real world understand that economic and political systems don’t exist like they do in the controlled environments of textbooks.’

Agreed, market models rarely reflect reality and, as for socialism, it remains only in textbooks and theoretical models as it has not yet been successfully implemented.

As far as your assertion that you are ‘qualified’, the only qualification you need to debate socialism is to know what it is and you have given no indication that you do.

You really need to do your own research but I will give a simple outline of the difference between capitalism and socialism, capitalism is signified by the private ownership of the means of production and socialism reflects public ownership and classless social relations. The ‘mild socialism’ which you allude to is capitalism with a welfare state which is designed to address the failure of markets to distribute social goods such as health and education.
The post-war also saw the rise of industrialized utilities, this is known as a mixed-market economy driven by the politics of social democracy, not socialism.

You cannot have degrees of socialism any more than you can have degrees of death.

@17. steveb

Unfortunately I think what you have done is taken a rather Babeuf definition and interpretation of socialism. The rest of the developed thinkers have since moved on. Your assertion is at odds with thinkers far more experienced than ourselves. From the likes of Krugman in The Great Unraveling all the way round to the free-market principles of Mises have appreciated the idea of socialist policies, and the introduction of varying degrees of socialism.

Apologies for the slow response. I have a job that is increasingly taking up more and more of my time.

18

‘Your assertion is at odds with thinkers far more experienced than ourselves. From the likes of Krugman …….free-market principles of Mises’

The theorists you mention have produced a large amount of literature, would you please cite a specific reference which is at odds with my comments @17 and from memory there is nothing in ‘The Great Unravelling’ which does so.

‘Unfortunately I think that what you have done is taken a rather Babeuf definition and interpretation’

Put simply, no, you think wrongly, why would I be talking about an 18th century revolutionary when there are 21st century theorists to draw upon?

Perhaps you might like to take a look at the Oxford Dictionary definition of socialism (note, not interpretation)

‘socialism’ – a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community’.

I await your response to my request.

This is the key bit:

“should be owned or regulated by the community”.

How is “community” defined?

20

The ‘community’, in the case of socialism, refers to all the people living in a locality, of course, all localities will have differing numbers and would have to be grouped according to the geographical environment.

@21: Thanks.

So, assume I live in, say, Canterbury, Kent, England.

What would be the structure for delivering services such as:

Water
Electricity
Television
Transport
Hospitals

22

I am unable to answer your question. not just because I do not know the Canterbury area but new organizations would have to build on the existing structures which are in place at the time. Although much emphasis is placed on the term ‘revolution’, what would take place would actually be a small evolutionary step, the revolution would be the sudden change in ownership and political power.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy: This is why we should fight against out-sourcing at universities | moonblogsfromsyb

    [...] via Guest Liberal Conspiracy http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/10/01/this-is-why-we-should-fight-against-out-sourcing-at-universi… [...]

  2. In Between Priests and Units: A Manifesto for Education as Labour - AntiCapitalists

    [...] the University of Sussex, the ongoing campaign against the outsourcing of 235 members of services staff, announced without consultation in May 2012 and now in the [...]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.